This is the first post in a blog series: Five Building Blocks in a Writing Style. I gave a talk on this subject last week at Galena Public Library, and now I want to share the info with all of you!
I think the most important building block is VOICE. It has nothing to do with your vocal cords and everything to do with how your words leap off the page. Some people believe that voice is synonymous with writing style. I’m of the opinion that voice is just one aspect of a writing style.
Voice = attitude + personality + thought/speech patterns + a variable quality that’s hard to define
Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird: “And the truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice. If it is wrapped in someone else’s voice, we readers will feel suspicious, as if you are dressed up in someone else’s clothes.”
Voice is probably the trickiest thing for beginning writers. It’s incredibly important but nearly impossible to teach. Voice can make or break a story.
Now that I’ve properly scared you, let me give you some hope. There are certain things you can do to find your voice, kind of like voice lessons for writers:
1. Decide what makes your writing unique. Is it your characters, plot, themes, word choice, use of punctuation, or a combination of the above? Find your passion, your ideal writing style. Then milk it for all its worth.
2. Describe unoriginal things in an original way. A sunset. Falling in love. Losing a loved one. Think about the thousands of times people have written scenes like this. How will you write it in a way that makes you stand out in the crowd?
3. Take risks to be different. Experiment with different tones and styles until you find your stride. Don’t be afraid of alienating your readers—you’ll only do that if you use someone else’s voice. Erica Jong said, “If you don’t risk anything, you risk even more.”
4. Find the right perspective. For each story you write, you have to decide whether to write in first person point of view or third (or the very rare second). Try writing the story in different ways until one narrative clicks for you. Which method was easier to write? Which result is better?
5. Find the right tense. Should you go with past or present? Past is the norm, but present tense is becoming more popular. As with perspective, try both ways to see which one is a better fit for the story.
6. Evolve with each story you write. Yes, perspective and tense can change from one story to the next. But some things never change. You brand yourself as an author, and readers will begin to expect certain things from you. So let yourself grow and evolve, but stay recognizable—stay true to yourself.
For an example of a very distinctive voice, check out books by Tahereh Mafi (starting with Shatter Me).
It might take a while to find your voice, but once you do, you’ve traveled far on the path to becoming a better writer. Don’t stop now! In next week’s writing workshop, we’ll talk about characters.
Let me know if you have any questions!